Long before it was a bustling master planned community, Irvine was an agricultural ranch.
It was owned by generations of the Irvine Family, who managed operations from the agricultural headquarters on the north-western border of their ranch.
The site was chosen in 1876, because it was close to the stagecoach station in Tustin City. James Irvine authorized the construction of the house that would become the home of his descendants for decades.
The house was the central point of the agricultural headquarters that surrounded it. There was a small office off the front hall and workers would eat meals on the screened porch.
Soon, buildings were added as ranch operations expanded. A Mess Hall, Bunkhouse, Blacksmith Shop and Carriage Barn all sprang up at the intersection of Irvine Blvd and Myford Road. For years, this was the nerve center of an agricultural powerhouse.
Today, a visit to the Irvine Ranch Historic Park takes you back to the city’s roots; when the primary crops were lima beans and citrus and not residential villages and business towers.
Located on the corner of Jamboree and Irvine Blvd, The Irvine Ranch Historic Park features a collection of original strructures from simpler days.
The Mess Hall is still there, where Irvine Company employees heard the chuck wagon bell before lunch. It was also the place where James H. Irvine hosted annual Christmas Dinners for his veteran employees.
The Bunkhouse still stands, near a row of Foremen Houses. The paint on the red Carriage Barn has worn a bit over the years, giving it a vintage charm.
And James H. Irvine’s simple office sits quietly behind the “new office building” that was constructed against his will in 1929. Irvine felt the larger office was extravagant and unnecessary.
The second office building is home to the OC Parks, the organization that cares for the park today.
The jewel of the Irvine Ranch Historic Park is The Katie Wheeler Library. This beautiful white mansion is an exact replica of the original Irvine Family Home. Design architects consulted original blueprints and took great care to ensure that that new building matched the former home.
The large, Georgian country home witnessed many of the joys and tragedies of the Irvine Family.
It was in this home that James H. Irvine’s first grandchild, a girl named Katie, was born in 1920. Four days later, Katie’s mother Kathryn became ill with pneumonia and died.
Over the years, the home was the setting for decades of holiday celebrations and family dinners.
It was also the place where Myford Irvine, the sole surviving child of James H. Irvine, died tragically in his basement office. His suspicious death, due to multiple gunshot wounds, was ruled a suicide.
In 1965, the iconic home was severely damaged by fire.Three years later, it was demolished. The Katie Wheeler Library was built on the former home site and opened to the public in 2008.
Visitors to the Katie Wheeler Library are treated to a trip back in time, where they can imagine the members of the Irvine Family seated by the fireplace or walking up the main staircase. Portraits and personal photos are on display and there is a self-guided tour available for those who want to learn more about the Irvine Family.
If you visit on Tuesday mornings, there is a Farmer’s Market on Old Irvine Blvd. It seems fitting to stroll among booths of fresh fruits and vegetables in the heart of the former agricultural ranch. After all, it’s only a few steps from the home of James Irvine, who considered himself a farmer first, landowner second.
IF YOU GO:
Irvine, CA 92602
9am – 1pm (rain or shine)